“Mulan” (2020): Another brick in Disney’s endless corporate wall

Breaking news: Live action remake of a Disney classic is bad again!

Max Vetter, Entertainment Reporter

“Mulan” is not a terrible movie because it’s different from the original. “Mulan” is a terrible movie because every change it makes is either wholly antithetical to the original, or just plain bad. What’s worse is that the movie’s already made $207 million, which means that Disney likely won’t learn their lessons and stop making trash. The plot of 2020’s “Mulan” isn’t that different from the original, but there are some key differences. First, in the pursuit of “realism,” the musical numbers have been removed along with Mulan’s animal sidekicks. Second, the villain has been changed to one Böri Khan and his witch sidekick Xian Niang. Finally, for some reason I can’t begin to comprehend, Mulan has been bestowed with an inordinate amount of Qi, effectively making her the chosen one. In theory, these changes wouldn’t necessarily kill a remake, but a combination of various types of incompetence make this one of 2020’s worst.

The first thing that stands out as particularly egregious in “Mulan” is the film making, most notably the editing. Like most live-action Disney movies, it was clearly shot with a truly mind-numbing amount of coverage, which results in a near nauseating first scene. The editor cuts and cuts with reckless abandon, not letting any of the admittedly pretty visuals last for more than a couple seconds. This clear lack of precision even leads to the occasional breaking of basic rules of editing, like preserving screen direction or establishing geography. What’s worse is that one of the few good elements of the film, the visuals, is squandered by the editor’s sheer inability to hold a shot. Not to say that “Mulan” is a cinematographic masterpiece by any means. Sure, the movie is filled to the brim with pretty colors, but it never does anything interesting with its framing, and is infested with unmotivated camera moves.

The presentation can’t even be saved by the acting. Most of the performances are either wooden or completely unbelievable, with the worst of them potentially being the lead, Liu Yifei. I’m not sure I ever saw Miss Liu make three unique facial expressions, which wasn’t helped by her utterly boring line delivery. Most disappointingly, whenever Mulan does something that’d require some amount of skill, there’s a cut to a wide shot where you can’t see her face, which deceptively makes it seem that Liu can’t do her own stunts. What’s stranger is that there are plenty of good Chinese actresses – who can even perform their own stunts and act at the same time – who would be great as the lead in a Mulan movie! Though, I guess that’d be too much to ask, given that Disney would never hire an actress with too heavy a Chinese accent, or else it wouldn’t be marketable to Joanne and Cletus. 

But what’s worse than the poor editing and performances is “Mulan”’s horrible script. The supposed “realism” is a facade, with more magic than even the original, and a cast of ancient Chinese people speaking modern English. The story is paced faster than a bullet, which makes it so that none of the story beats have time to breathe. Granted, this could’ve been chalked up to the editing, but even Thelma Schoonmaker couldn’t make the dialogue or characters any more interesting. Each character is a cardboard cutout, with the biggest victims being the villains. Along with being wholly uninteresting in their own right, they don’t have a personal reason to be in conflict with Mulan, which results in a horribly anticlimactic climax. Speaking of which, Mulan’s character arc is leagues worse than her animated counterpart, because she starts out ludicrously competent. A lazy opening narration says that Mulan has abnormally high amounts of Qi, which in the movie acts mostly like the force from “Star Wars”, which runs completely opposed to her original character. “Mulan” (1998) is inspiring because Mulan has to become better than her male peers through hard work, which is infinitely more inspiring than starting off with superpowers and just deciding to use them.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with hyper competent women in action. In fact, there is a place where hundreds of action movies star women, and that’s China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong)! So instead of supporting Disney’s terrible remake of a great movie you can see for miles cheaper, I’d suggest watching the Taiwanese action classic, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000). This movie is excellent, with a fascinating and emotional story, wonderful performances, and fight scenes so good that you’ll have no choice but to obsessively rewatch them. Additionally, the movie is incredibly well made, with brilliant visuals and editing that lets you get the most out of the superb action scenes. Please, please please support women led action movies, support more visibility for Asian actors; but for God’s sake, support Asian filmmakers, and not this machine-produced garbage.